HILO — It rained at the Kailana Regatta. It didn’t last very long and didn’t disturb the day in the least. Mauhili viewed the rain as a blessing and felt it was symbolic — a sign that Mabel Tolentino was smiling from above.
Kai Opua captured the Moku O Hawaii Outrigger Canoe Racing Association’s A division title, and there were a few upsets on Saturday at Hilo Bay, but the day belonged to the memory of Aunty Mabel.
The longtime official, community volunteer and symbol of aloha passed away June 7. She was 73.
Before the race, all of the club members held hands from Hanakahi’s beach spot all the way down to Kailana’s halau — a good two football fields — then tossed lei and flowers into the ocean, honoring Aunty Mabel in Moku O Hawaii’s first “Hands Across Hilo Bay Sands” celebration.
“Everybody held hands, and everybody was in awe,” Aunty Maile said. “We were all in tears. She was a person of all seasons. We all miss her and love her. I miss her voice and her smile. She’s smiling down on us.
“She’ll always be with us. We had sun, no wind and rain. Actually, it wasn’t rain. It was a blessing shower. It was beautiful, and I loved it.”
Kawaihae pocketed one gold, the women open four — crewed by Noelani Spencer, Tiffany Hatanaka, Kapua Christensen and Leilani Griego — in 4 minutes and 20.24 seconds, keeping its undefeated streak alive.
Kai Opua went 7-of-8 in maintaining unbeaten canoes. The West Hawaii powerhouse’s girls 13, women novice B, girls 16 and 18, boys 16 and 18, and women freshmen all won.
The only canoe crew to go down was the Kai Opua boys 12. Kai Ehitu took first in 1:55.90, a comfortable margin of breathing room to Kai Opua’s 2:04.46.
Kai Opua president and paddler Larry “Uncle Bo” Campos met Aunty Mabel when he first got into paddling 14 years ago. Like anyone who knew her, he remembered Aunty Mabel’s aloha spirit.
“She was an awesome woman, very friendly,” he said. “She was a great person to know. She always had aloha. She would always stop and talk with you. She will be missed.
“My sweetest aloha memory of her is many years ago when Kai Opua won the Moku O Hawaii championship, and I had just gotten the position of president. She was just so congratulatory toward me. It showed her aloha.”
Uncle Bo was on the masters men 60 crew — along with head coach Mike Atwood, Pete Pellolio, Gary Medina, David Newman and Ed Tseu — that grabbed gold, snapping Keauhou’s unbeaten record.
Kai Opua won in 4:09.03, ahead of Keaukaha’s 4:16.80. Kawaihae was third, and Keauhou suffered a disqualification.
On the perfection busted list were Kai Opua’s boys 12, Keauhou’s men masters 60 and its men open four — Kai Opua seized first, Puna was second, Keaukaha finished third, and Keauhou tumbled to fourth.
Hui Waa O Waiakea jostled Paddlers of Laka for the B title (14 events or less), 45-36. And for the small clubs, it was nice that Kai Opua didn’t gobble up all the gold. Hanakahi won the novice B mixed for the second straight regatta, and Waiakea placed first for the boys 15 and also remained unbeaten.
There were good vibes all around, especially from the Kawaihae camp, drawing on old aloha memories of Aunty Mabel.
“I first met her when I came to the club in 1980,” said paddler Barbara Schaefer. “The thing is she was always friendly and welcoming, even to a newcomer like me. Her contributions to the community were so broad in every aspect. The celebration was nice and very appropriate.
“She was just always so friendly.”